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Woodharbor fires woman for excused absences, must pay unemployment benefits

MASON CITY – An administrative law judge ruled this month that excused absences could not be used against a fired Woodharbor employee as grounds for denial of unemployment benefits.

According to the decision, Woodharbor Doors and Cabinetry, Inc., located at 3277 9th Street SW in Mason City, fired Tracy Craig in October for what Woodharbor called “excessive absenteeism” based on their points system. The attendance policy at Woodharbor is based on points and six points in a 12-month period is grounds for discharge. She was then denied unemployment benefits and appealed that decision.

On February 11, 2013, Craig had received a written warning when she had accumulated seven points. She was not discharged but allowed to remain if she produced a performance improvement plan. She agreed to come to work on time and arrange her doctors’ appointments for after work.

Subsequent to the warning some points “fell off” after the 12-month period had passed, but she accumulated others on June 4 and 5, August 5 and September 3, 2013. During this period she did not check with her supervisor or the human resources department to find out what her point total, assuming the employer would let her know.

The final absence occurred on October 14, 2013. Craig called in prior to the start of her shift and said she was ill. The other absences were due to personal or family illness and had doctor’s excuses to cover the time off. She was then terminated from her employment at Woodharbor.

On appeal, the Administrative Law Judge found that all of Craig’s absences were due to illness and were properly reported and documented by a physician’s statement and therefore, disqualification fro unemployment benefits can not be imposed. The employer has the burden of proof to establish the claimant was discharged for substantial, job-related misconduct.
The record establishes that Craig was discharged for excessive absenteeism, but as the absences were all due to illness and properly reported, they are not unexcused.

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